The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) had taken a toll on the world, affecting 168 countries and more than 417,000 people. So far, more than 18,600 people have died due to complications of the disease. Scientists across the globe race to develop the first vaccine against the novel coronavirus.
A team of researchers in four countries will soon start a clinical trial in the hope of battling against the novel coronavirus. The test will see if a century-old vaccine used against tuberculosis (TB) can boost the immune system to fight the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
The vaccine, VPM1002, developed initially against tuberculosis by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, is also effective against COVID-19, which has rippled across the globe. The hardest-hit countries are China, Italy, and Spain.
The large-scale trial is to be undertaken at various hospitals and will include older adults and health care workers, who are at a higher risk of the disease.
Vaccination with a tuberculosis vaccine could activate the immune system and thus alleviate the course of Covid-19 disease. Image Credit: Tero Vesalainen / Shutterstock
What is VPM1002?
Vaccines induce immune responses specific to a target pathogen, either a virus or bacterium. The VPM1002, called bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), contains a live, weakened strain of the Mycobacterium bovis, a close family of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis, a highly contagious respiratory illness.
Usually, BCG is given to children in their first year of life, preventing about 60 percent of TB cases in children. The vaccine may boost the immune system's ability to fight off pathogens, including the deadly coronavirus.
Various studies in mice have shown that the BCG vaccine does not only protect against tuberculosis but also other viral infections affecting the respiratory tract. Evidence has also shown that mice suffering from influenza have fewer influenza A viruses in their blood if they were given the BCG vaccine before.
Further studies have also shown that having the BCG vaccine increases laboratory animals' resistance to other viruses, showing promise as a method of treatment for COVID-19.
Is VPM1002 safe?
The vaccine contains weakened tuberculosis-like bacteria, which were genetically modified to let the immune cells of the body detect and recognize them.
The vaccine is currently being tested in a Phase III study on adult volunteers in India and has been noted to be more effective than the standard BCG vaccination used today. The trial is expected to be completed by mid-2020.
The trial will also commence in Germany, among health workers and older adults, who are at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease. Around 1,000 staff are taking part in the trial, with half of them receiving the BCG vaccine, while others will have a placebo.
"These population groups are particularly affected by the current pandemic and could therefore particularly benefit from vaccination with VPM1002," Leander Grode, Managing Director of VPM, said.
Yielding positive results in the clinical trial can help ease the burden on various healthcare systems until a vaccine is developed, which is designed explicitly against SARS-CoV-2.
Coronavirus updates – what is happening?
There are thousands of confirmed cases every 24 hours. Up to date, the number of confirmed cases has topped 400,000, while 18,227 people have succumbed to the complications tied to the viral infection.
Italy is now the new epicenter of the global pandemic. Though China has still recorded the highest number of infections, Italy may surpass this number as the rapid spread of the virus is overwhelming. The country has been locked down since Mar. 9, but the cases continue to increase by the minute.
So far, Italy reported 69,176 confirmed cases and 6,820 deaths, the highest death toll in all countries. Italy has a high fatality rate of 9.8 percent. In Mar. 24, there were 742 deaths.
The United States has quickly taken the second spot in the highest number of infections. The country now has a staggering 53,660 confirmed cases and 703 deaths. The country has now imposed travel restrictions, schools are shut down, and public places are closed to reduce the risk of people crowding around and prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
The virus mostly affects vulnerable and high-risk groups, such as older adults, those who are immunocompromised, and those with underlying medical conditions.